Prepared by Cindy Perras, M.Ed., OCT
Educational Consultant, LDAO
In general, the literature that discusses both mental health and learning disabilities (LDs) finds that those with LDs are at increased risk for mental health problems. According to Children’s Mental Health Ontario, 1 in 5 of children and youth under the age of 19 in Ontario has a mental health problem. This means that almost 20% of students in a typical classroom will be dealing with a mental health problem - making it difficult for them to learn, or regulate their behaviour appropriately.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.
WHO, August 2014
For the most part, child and youth mental health problems can be classified into two broad categories: internalizing problems, which include symptoms like withdrawal, anxiety, fearfulness, and depressed moods; and externalizing problems, which are characterized by such behaviours as aggression, defiance, rule-breaking, and destructive behaviour (Achenbach, 1991, as quoted in Supporting Minds, p. 9).
The Integra Program, a program of the Child Development Institute, developed the Handbook on Learning Disabilities (Integra, 2009), which includes a section on LDs and mental health; statistics are quite high for co-existing learning disabilities and mental health issues:
Having LDs puts kids at greater risk for a number of mental health concerns. As demonstrated by the experiential exercises in the Walk-A-Mile workshop, kids who have LDs may experience feelings of frustration, shame and perceived stigma, hopelessness, and anxiety about not meeting expectations. 40% of people with LDs are estimated to struggle with problems such as anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem. In addition, 75% of kids with LDs are estimated to have difficulties with social relationships. Depending on the nature of the LDs, it can be hard for kids to ‘read’ social cues or to adapt to new social situations, or to regulate their emotions or behaviours in order to fit in with peers. Kids with LDs are at greater risk for bullying and victimization, social isolation and rejection, or for feelings of loneliness. (p.23)
These statistics have significant implications for educators who are in need of information, resources and strategies to support students with LDs and mental health issues. The following listing identifies various sources of information and resources that will be of benefit to educators; it should be noted that not all of the resources specifically address LDs and mental health, as co-existing conditions, but nonetheless provide tangentially relevant information.
Mental Health & LDs: Myths and Facts
Ontario Ministry of Education
The Ontario Ministry of Education has developed a resource document for educators entitled, Supporting Minds: An Educator’s Guide to Promoting Students’ Mental Health and Well-being. This comprehensive, 154-page resource, is divided into two sections, as follows:
Part One: Introduction
- The Role of Supporting Minds
- Understanding Child and Youth Mental Health and Addiction Problems
- The Role of Educators in Supporting Students’ Mental Health and Well-being
Part Two: Recognizing and Responding to Mental Health Problems Among Students
- Anxiety Problems
- Mood Problems: Depression and Bipolar Disorder
- Attention and Hyperactivity/Impulsivity Problems
- Behaviour Problems
- Eating and Weight-related Problems
- Substance Use Problems
- Self-harm and Suicide
Of particular note is the format in Part Two; for each of the mental health problems, information is provided in a systematic manner and includes specific strategies for educators under various headings; the section on Attention and Hyperactivity/Impulsivity Problems illustrates the consistent format for information:
- What Are Attention and Hyperactivity/Impulsivity Problems?
- What Do Attention and Hyperactivity/Impulsivity Problems Look Like?
- What Can Educators Do?
- Background Information
Appendices include related provincial initiatives, the national and international context, and mental health action signs.
Children’s Mental Health Ontario
Children's Mental Health Ontario (CMHO) represents and supports the providers of child and youth mental health treatment services throughout Ontario. The core membership consists of more than 85 accredited community-based children’s mental health centres that serve some 150,000 children and their families annually. Services are provided at no cost to clients. The CMHO website provides numerous resources for teachers, addressing the most common mental health problems present in today’s classrooms, including anxiety and mood disorders, AD/HD, and behavioural disorders. Teachers will find tips on early identification and intervention, practical suggestions on accommodating and responding to kids with mental health problems, and ways to combat stigma in the classroom. Here is a summary of the resources teachers can access (some are available in French):
- History of Madness in Canada: Madness in the Classroom
- TakingITGlobal - Mental Health Thematic Classroom
- Healthy Transitions: Promoting Resilience and Mental Health in Young Adolescents
- Youth Net - Réseau Ado
- Making a Difference - An Educators' Guide to Child and Youth Mental Health Problems (Third Edition)
- When Something's Wrong: Ideas for Teachers (Quand ça ne va pas: Aide aux enseignants aux prises avec des élèves en difficulté)
- Assessment Toolkit for Bullying, Harassment, and Peer Relations at School
- Talking about Mental Illness: A guide for developing an awareness program for youth
- The ABCs of Mental Health
- Orientation to Child + Youth Mental Health Services: A Guide for Teachers
- Whispering Selves and Reflective Transformations in the Internal Dialogue of Teachers and Students
The ABCs of Mental Health – A Teacher Resource
The ABCs of Mental Health is a project of the Hinks-Dellcrest Centre, which provides two free, web-based resources, one for teachers and one for parents, to help answer questions about the behaviour of children and adolescents. The resources include ideas for promoting the mental health of children and adolescents, information about how children change as they get older, descriptions of behaviours that might indicate a problem, and practical suggestions for steps to take.
Child and Youth Mental Health Information Network
According to the information on this organization’s website, the Child and Youth Mental Health Information Network (CYMHIN) is a loosely-structured cooperative amongst several large organizations that provide information about children’s mental health problems, in the province of Ontario. The bilingual website provides key resources for teachers, including “Educators Guide to Child and Youth Mental Health” and “Making a Difference”. Additionally, resources are available that were written for families but educators would find informative, including “Answers to Your Questions About Getting Help” and “What you Can Expect from a Mental Health Professional”.
weRkids & youth
The werkidsmentalhealth.ca website is a collaborative project designed to provide resources about children and youth mental health and addiction issues for educators, service providers, community partners, parents and students in Windsor-Essex. The Website provides links to community supports and services, organized in the following age categories: 0-6 years, 6-12 years, 12 -18 years.
Child Development Institute
In Ontario, the Child Development Institute (CDI) is now delivering programs previously offered by the former Integra Foundation, an accredited children’s mental health agency providing evidence-informed, therapeutic programs and services to children, youth and their families who are dealing with mental health issues complicated by learning disabilities. The Integra Program provides family-centred, evidence-informed direct clinical services to children and youth ages 8 to 18 with diagnosed learning disabilities and mental health issues in Toronto.
The World Health Organization
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines itself as the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends. Click here to visit the World Health Organization's website and access the fact sheet on mental health.
Integra. (2009). A Handbook on Learning Disabilities. Toronto, ON: Author.
Ontario Ministry of Education. (2013). Supporting Minds: An Educators’ Guide to Promoting Students’ Mental Health and Well-being.